Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident after an explosion further damaged one of the crippled reactors and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air.

Comments: 125

  1. excerpt: "In what was perhaps the clearest sign of the rising anxiety over the nuclear crisis, both the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Russian authorities issued statements on Sunday trying to allay fears, saying they did not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach their territory."

    How soon might we expect the storms blowing across the Pacific Ocean to reach the West coast of the United States and deliver toxic rain? What level of radiation from these damaged reactors is "safe" and when will we receive information about measurements being taken in the U.S.?

    Last night, as rain fell, I wondered how many days it would take for radiation to reach California in a rain storm....

  2. When reading the quotes from public officials, the first question that pops into my mind is what are these guys not telling us? Somehow the pieces don't fit or add up. It is a credibility thing.

  3. Up until now, the radiation leaks have been small, but in the event of a full-fledged meltdown, the release of radioactivity would be higher. In that case, one would start to watch weather patterns to gauge the flow and dispersion of the radioactivity. The prevailing flow of air, including the Jet stream would carry some across the Pacific to the US, but by the time it arrived here, it would be diluted over a large area, but still something to be concerned about. The following is a website that shows the Jet stream patterns over the Northern Hemisphere, updated every six hours. You might want to look.
    Thanks for the great reporting.

  4. It can't happen here.
    It can't happen here.
    Let me tell you, my dear,
    That it can't happen here.
    (The Fugs)

  5. There is still the potential for greater problems here at Japan's nuclear reactors, if the spent fuel rods stored on site are not cooled, or if the reactor containment structures are breached by fuel that reportedly is 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    When will we learn that disasters don't play by the script that risk managers write for them? And that it is always the multiple cumulative problems that add up to real disaster.

    There are much safer forms of energy, and it seems tragic that a prepared nation like Japan that designed its reactors to withstand earthquakes and to be resistant to tsunamis did not plan to possibly experience both these events at the same time.

  6. So are we helping to try and prevent the meltdown or are the Japanese going it alone?

  7. Let's build more reactors here, what could go wrong?

  8. My feeling is that the official word will continue to be "things are under control".
    Until they are not.

  9. "hey can I have some of your purple berries?"

  10. Toxic rain, toxic rain...

    (sung to the Prince classic)

  11. Throw some Corexit in there, it'll work itself out.

  12. It is disappointing that these Japanese 'pseudo-meltdowns' may forestall the needed and wider adoption of nuclear power in the USA and elsewhere. Radiation is a VISIBLE and nasty drawback to nuclear power, but compared to the more hidden, diffuse, and insidious health and environmental effects of pollution derived from burning coal and oil, we should probably be adopting more, not less, carbon-neutral nuclear power.

  13. I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering what the net effect of a total meltdown might be to one or more of these reactors, should they breach containment. Would there be an explosion and release of radioactivity similar to a nuclear device? Would one explosion potentially trigger another? I keep reading articles, seeking more information, and yet somehow all I keep seeing is, "a total meltdown would be a disaster."

    I think I've got that part....

  14. "...Operators fear that if they cannot establish control, despite increasingly desperate measures to do so, the reactors could experience meltdowns, which would release catastrophic amounts of radiation. ..."

    What operators? Give us a source. That there will be a "catastrophic" release of contamination, even if the core largely melts, is quite speculative and alarmist. The plants containment systems are designed to contain a core meltdown, even if one occurs.

    Clearly we are looking at a set of seriously damaged (or totally destroyed) reactors that may never function again and which will prove to be challenging and expensive cleanup jobs. In addition there will be a substantial electrical shortage in Japan and increased reliance on fossil fuels, since Japan relies heavily on nuclear energy. But please, the apocalyptic prose is so far unwarranted. If you are going to speculate, perhaps you should put probabilities on your scenerios based on named sources.

    Aside from the somewhat overly optimistic prose, there is a good description below of the reactor type that goes a little deeper than the Times interactive feature.


  15. I have always been impressed by the lawful, polite behavior of the Japanese, having visited Japan myself. The group is more important than the individual. The photos are witness to this.

    Can you imagine Americans under the same circumstances? Our culture is based on every man for himself. I do not doubt that looting, stampeding, disregard for one another's rights, and much waving about of guns would occur under any threatening circumstances.

    By the way, guns are outlawed in Japan.

  16. Wind power may look ugly but it is safe.

  17. I hope nothing major happens but what is really upsetting is the assurance by the PHDs that there is nothing to worry about I truly hope they are right but maybe they should keep their mouths shut until all the facts are in and the crisis is over

  18. Some parts of this tragedy is appaling. japan is a nation as we know extremely developed in terms of technology compared to rest of the world.

    Ok we accepted that the earthquake is catastrophically strong, but existing problem, is arising from nucleer reactor doesn't have any auxilary electric power. since when diesel generators was not available,( there is mobile ones, Mitsubishi heavy industries is the most important producer). I didn't accept an excuse japanese government for no electricity available for these plants.

    If this is not incompetence what would be.

  19. It is so sad, the collective fate of the Japanese, and possibly the West coast of America and elsewhere the wind blows. An earthquake will soon subside, but an radioactive environment will cause illness for a long time to come. To think that Obama used the word nuclear in the same sentence as "clean energy" during his state of the Union address, and then gave billions in subsidies to the corrupt nuclear power industry is just sickening. Nuclear power is an industry that actually costs more energy overall than it ever produces (mining, maintaining, dealing with waste, etc.), which is why it has never been able to stand on its own feet without government subsidy. For the Japanese economy, running on debt, they could make that equation work for a time, but eventually, when their economy crashed, it wouldn't have been sustainable. The same goes for America. I just wonder where we'd be now if all that money that Obama and his corporate political predecessors have given to nuclear had instead been invested in real clean energy-- in wind, solar, tidal, and microhydro power. For every barrel of oil we don't import, we will save much more in trying to maintain a bankrupt dollar, and we could have built a sustainable economy. I fear even this disaster won't stop the behemoth of corporate industry that has stolen our future.

  20. If this incident serves as a signal to the US that we need to actually embrace science and take alternative energy sources -- wind, solar, geothermal -- seriously, then maybe something good can come of it.

    In the meantime, I echo a previous comment posted here and hope we're doing something to help Japan.

  21. Now is the time to expand nuclear plants.

    Now is the time to remove Obama as the "birthers" demand.

    Now is the time for the American Rifle Association to change its slogan to: "Guns, rifles and nuclear energy plants do not kill. People and tsunamis do."

    Now is the time to hold Un-American Activities Committee Hearings about all Islamics, gays, civil rights, human rights, and minority rights activists, immigrants, abortionists, lefties, commies (must still be some in the State Department), atheists, agnostics, Jews, obese people, all public and private sectors unionists, feminists, lesbians, left-handed people, red-headed people and environmentalists. All the above mentioned demographic groupings must have 'safe the environment' thinking and sympathies and need investigation.

    Some Americans might think it is the wrong time to seek expansion of nuclear energy facilities but no one really cared when the American Rifle Association (and soon to be renamed American, Rifles, Handguns, Assault Weapons and Nuclear Weapons Association) held its rally after the massacre at Columbine High School. The new slogan for this uncaring legalized murder incorporated gang is guns, rifles, and nuclear energy plants don't kill; people and tsunamis do!

    P.S. Not all gun owners are the same and the right to own and use selected weapons should continue within State militias as called for in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. However, it seems to make sense that mentally challenged, children under age 12, violent criminals, etc. should be restricted in some reasonable ways about their rights to own guns.

    The committee should have only white males, corporate types and a few self proclaimed entrepreneurs (to replace the slave owners) as were in attendance in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Congress. And as then, all committee activities should be held behind closed doors with the windows covered and with an agreement that nothing would be told of its actions until after the committee finalized charges against all the Un-Americans.

    We did it before and we can do it again: make complete fools of ourselves while undermining the very values we claim are dear to our hearts.

  22. "So the fuel rods were exposed for a while." What's a while?? People were exposed to radiation and yet it can't be determined if the radiation they were exposed to is all that dangerous. Shouldn't we have better ideas by now. I think their electric company and the nuclear reactor people are running scared...no they are terrified. They can't seem to get much straight.

    What are they not saying? Some people must know.

    And may i ask comment #12 what is a "pseudo-meltdown?"

  23. WHY would anyone build a nuclear reactor directly in the path of highly destructive tsunamis... ?!

    You can make a strong case that nuclear is inherently dangerous, but so is my family car if I drive in the opposite lane against oncoming traffic..

  24. What America needs to know: Who designed these reactors? Aren't these problematic reactors made by General Electric?

  25. I don't know. How many times can attractive, articulate corporate -owned folks look you in the eye and lie before you stop believing them? Small releases of radioactive matter won't harm the public. (Is there a threshold level for DNA damage by radioactive particles? One molecule?)

    Saddam has these mobile labs, just look at the pictures.

    Gas fracking won't hurt the water.

    Am I rambling? Yes. I have lost my mind as a result of consuming lies so big they couldn't possibly be lies but were anyway.

  26. In fact as the NY Times clearly explains in its very good graphics about the nuclear reactor, the issue is that while teh reaction has stopped the rods are very very hot and need to be cool down.
    It clearly states that at 3-mile island the core was not breached even if the rods melted - so it is kind of logical to assume that the core would not breach here either (in addition the flooding with seawater will cool it off - and the Japanese officials have doine that twice already sacrificing teh reactors whihc shows safety is a top prirority). The NY times also clearly states that at Chernobyl there was no containment structure as there is here. Finally the NY times clearly says physicists do not believe it is possible for the rods to actuaally melt through the steel and concrete core and emit large amounts of radiation.
    We are all exposed to radiation every day just by being in the earth, let alone flying on airplanes, going to dentist, etc. I am not saying that there are no radiation dangers (nuclear weapons and disrty bombs are clear dangers, as are old reactors not properly maintained) - but nuclear is a much cleaner and safer option in my opinion than oil or cola and we routinely burn those for electricity here, not to mention the fumes from millions of cars. I rather live in a world with nuclear power )albeit not many if any planst in eathquake prone areas) and electric cars fueled by it, than in a nuc nuclear free one with toxic fumes.

  27. Just as with the exploded oil rig in the gulf, we're seeing that the workers at the front lines of these industries DON'T know what to do, and their scientists seem to have theories of what will work, but no certain answers.

    The environmental and societal costs attached to these very dangerous endeavors are never figured into the equation, because of the wealth that is envisioned.

  28. I am still hearing announcers blithely repeating the alarmingly inaccurate saw that "nuclear power is clean". In what sense is it clean?

  29. #12 Greg, the capacity of pro-nuclear cheerleaders like yourself to ignore the facts of the ongoing crisis amazes me. You all have in common an unshakeable belief that the worst is over, and that the worst is no worse than reported by Japanese authorities. These beliefs have yet to find any basis in reality. Hearing your smug, sanguine opinions about nuclear power makes it difficult to believe that you are following the details of this unfolding story.

  30. People often talk about how cost effective nuclear power is....but I wonder, what would the fallout from the earthquake have been if it were a bunch of ruined wind turbines or dislocated solar panels? When we start to factor in the TRUE cost of various modes of energy production, these alternatives will look like the cheapest way to produce power.

  31. This going to take a week or two to sort out. Time for the rods to cool, and time for people to get the facts straight.

  32. “In screenings, higher-than-normal levels of radiation have been detected from at least 22 people evacuated from near the plant, the nuclear safety watchdog said, but it was not clear if the doses they received were dangerous. “

    There is no reason not to know if the radiation levels they received were dangerous. If you have a number print it along with the range of radiation levels from benign to dangerous. Officials are trying to hide the truth of the situation by not printing this information.

    Having said this there is a larger issue including the safety of nuclear reactors which is not being discussed here. We talk about Public Safety as if it is separate from Private Safety because supposedly the uber-wealthy can buy anything to protect themselves from dangers that the healthily wealthy, the middle class and the poor cannot. The uber-wealthy cannot be protected from the lack of wisdom they generate within themselves by separating themselves from the rest of humanity.

  33. I must disagree with Greg, number 12. Nothing created by man is 100 percent safe. Less reliance on nuclear power and more research, adoption of other forms of clean energy is essential. Read the book entitled We Almost Lost Detroit by John G. Fuller and many others detailing the history of accidents, near meltdowns, etc at plants all over the world.

  34. In your article, you report: "The two reactors where the explosions occurred are both presumed to have already suffered partial meltdowns — a dangerous situation that, if unchecked, could lead to a full meltdown." Would be worthwhile to relate how a full meltdown differs from a partial one, and how this may affect relase of radioactive material from a plant.

  35. Nukes: Safe. Clean. Affordable. Until they're not.

    When something has a one in a million chance of happening, it will usually happen nine times out of ten.

    Meltdown? 10 days before California and most of the food industry in the US is irradiated. Then it travels across the mid-west. Who'll need GM corn then? Followed quickly by a nice dose on the East Coast…

    Maybe Obama will play some golf, renew some more licenses to build a few new nuke plants and agree to drill even more offshore.

    Polluted food supply from the Gulf oil spill? Check.
    Radioactive food supply from the West Coast? Check.

    'Atta boy, Brownie…'

  36. As with the Kobe disaster, Japan's high brow experts refused immediate help that was offered from around the world. I believe absolutely nothing any "expert" tells us at this point.

  37. It is evident that the explosions have spewed high level of radiation into the air and that these radiation will travel with the winds to other countries worldwide: one planet, one atmosphere. The first venting plume should be reaching the East coast of N. America soon since it is likely to have travelled with the jet stream. We hope that the government will inform the public if radiation is detected and will take steps to protect the public from contaminated foods.

    Humans are insane to keep using plutonium or uranium since these elements are way too radioactive , unstable and their half life in million of years. It is irrational to keep using nuclear energy and certainly with the knowledge we now possess it is absurd to promote the building of new nuclear power plants . In this country alone there has been more than 50 "incidents" since Three Mile Island at several nuclear plants the most recent accident involved the plant in Vermont in February 2010 which leaked radioactive tritium into the ground water: see the list in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org...

    I live in NC, I would gladly give my roof top to the energy company if this would close the power plants in NC.

  38. In any disaster, public officials have to maintain calm to whatever extent possible because panic only makes a bad situation worse.

    Having said that, and with all due respect, the statements of the Japanese government sound eerily like the "assurances" re: air quality heard in New York City in the days after September 11. I needed -- indeed wanted -- to believe them, and so I did. Logic and common sense kept telling me otherwise.

    My heart goes out to the people of Japan.

  39. If a FRACTION of the money paid to the technological Pollyannas who devise and design nuclear power plants had been spent on developing various forms of clean energy instead -- wind, water, solar -- to make them more reliable and more efficient than they are now ...well, we wouldn't be having this problem, would we?

    How many more wake-up calls does humanity deserve to get?

  40. Can't wait to see our politicians kicking into damage control mode reassuring us about "clean coal" and "safe nuclear" paid by dirty and unsafe industries...

  41. So far, the pattern has been a statement by Tokyo Electric made to allay fears as to the severity of the situation, followed almost immediately by a disastrous set-back - a failure of cooling systems, an explosion, then another cooling system failure, then another explosion. Each time the diameter of the evacuation circle increases. All of which begs the question: Does the power company actually have any real control over this situation or are they merely babysitting these reactors as things fall apart?

  42. What an extraordinarily high cost nuclear power has for Japan. At the very moment they most need their first responders to bring aid to the injured, they have to conduct a huge evacuation for an unnecessary nuclear disaster.

    In the US so far, we have simply been saddled with more expensive electric power than if we had not built reactors http://www.ucsusa.org...

    And, we have an intractable nuclear waste disposal problem. Let us pray that we don't also come to pay the same price as Japan.

  43. I found this to be highly informative, especially because it helped explain which redundant systems failed, and the real risks involved. The scariest outcome: a 15% energy shortfall in Japan (pressuring fuel markets) and a very, very messy cleanup.


  44. I think wider use of nuclear power could play a role transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward fully renewable solutions such as solar and wind. But if huge corporations (backed by government subsidies and all the lobbyists money can buy) can't convince the public to go nuclear, I have little sympathy.

    Here in the West, we've seen industrial-scale wind farms installed at an incredible rate. Big solar-thermal and photovoltaic installations are planned for California and the Southwest. Roof-top solar is getting cheaper and cheaper, and produces plenty of power even in rainy places like the Pacific Northwest and Japan.

  45. The scenario for this nuclear disaster becomes graver every day, yet there is little reporting about the potential catastrophe if there is a major meltdown, which seems increasingly likely. What is the danger and to whom? Can a meltdown be prevented? Could a cloud of nuclear radiation travel on the jet stream to North America? What is the time frame? What preparation can be taken? Let's have some forward looking reporting!

  46. Aside from Iodine and Cesium nucleides, one with a half life of eight days and the other 30 years, what other nucleides are there in the plants and what are their half lives. The Japanese people deserve to know and we, sharing the planet with them, also deserve to know. The prevailing winds don't stop at the shore of Japan any more than the tsunami did. The effect may be attenuated, sure, but there will still be excessive deaths down the road, decreased immunity and damage to the food chain.

  47. Greg, La Jolla - yes, you're right about the health and environmental effects of pollution derived from burning coal and oil, but at least you can survive with it and live till a ripe old age, as life expectancy rates during the age of oil seem to indicate. But last I heard there weren't that many people living near Chernobyl. There are 55 nuclear power plants in Japan, I understand, and now it seems likely that 2 plants will devastate a fairly large area in a country with a space problem. So yes, I'll take slow strangulation at the hands of coal and oil over that.

  48. Are thermal images being recorded of the affected reactors? If not, why not? I have not read of this procedure anywhere.

  49. If the Japanese cannot control these things, how can we. They are technically literate, well educated, and personally responsible. These are none of our strengths. Rather we are uneducated or poorly educated, individually we shirk responsibility (note bankers and politicians), and always profit-minded and self-serving.

  50. “Then the other reactors would have to be abandoned, and left to run their disastrous course.”

    First thought, why in the world would reactors be built close enough together that one meltdown ensures the other reactors would have to be abandoned, creating the possibility of disaster times three? This seems incredibly stupid.

  51. Is the USA prepared for a worst case scenario? Suppose that one or more reactors has a full melt-down, what then? At Chernobyl, the radioactive cloud drifted into Poland. The children are most susceptible to radiactive iodine poisoning and those that were given the thyroid-blocking pills avoided getting thyroid cancer but many who didn't take the pill contracted thyroid cancer. These pills have been circulated to the Japanese who live around nuclear facilities. I wonder if our government has enough pills to distribute to Americans on the west coast and beyond. I understand that if the iodine pills cannot be found, an alternative preventive treatment is to paint the stomach with iodine, such as Betadine, commonly found in drug stores, but that the pills are much preferred.

    In the case of an atomic explosion, the plume ascends thousand of feet into the atmosphere and is carried far on the jet stream. But would ground level radioactivity from Japan reach the west coast of America? I'd like to know some answers.

  52. The backup cooling pumps, the reactor, electric cables and switches should have been protected in water tight compartments in case a tsunami breached the seawall. Doors or access points to these areas would be like hatches on an aircraft carrier, able to be closed and sealed.

  53. As it is often the case, the NY Times fails to keep a level ehad and just creates panic. I do not wish to minimize the porblems at the nuclear reactions but there is nothing to indicate that they are that serious nor that they will blow up (which the reactosr's cant do).
    For a weel grounded explanation Ipoint people to an opinion piece on the WSJ today - I am not posting the link

  54. Special thanks to Joe Lieberman, I-Neptune, for the much needed comic relief this past weekend. Joe was busy going around singing the Frank Zappa song, 'It Can't Happen Here" into every mic he saw. His nasality gave it a distinct country and western twang.

    "You see", Joe explained, "our reactors are designed with safety in mind, so no reason to fear for it can't happen here".

  55. I actually saw a headline that said "Experts say radiation will not reach U.S.". I guess there are some people who are still so ignorant as to believe that somehow the atmosphere is not universal to our planet? That there are some sort of "divisions" that would keep it away from us?
    On a lighter note, I revisited REM's "The End Of The World As We Know It". The first line: "That's great it starts with an earthquake.."

  56. Why are we (the US) and other countries not sending more help to these people? Everything is unfolding like an absolute nightmare over there- All things considered, the Japanese technicans have come together as a team and done a FAR better job than anyone in the same situation here in the US could have handled it. Bravo to them! What you see here, is called Teamwork and Bravery. They should be proud.

    No one here has the right to judge or talk about what's being done, said or not. We're all here behind our computers, with electricity, water, heat and food- and they're not. They're surrounded by dead bodies, aftershocks, no food, no clean water. My suggestion to all if you that are complaining/making negative comments on these japan articles? Stop typing, stop being selfish and worrying about your own life and get off your butt and find a way to help these people rebuild their lives, because they just lost everything.

    Here, let me help give you direction:

  57. The psychological damage alone is acute from the threat of total meltdown - on top of the damage wrought from total loss of home, community and loved ones for many thousands upon thousands of Japanese.

    Writers who toss aside meltdown fears as hysterical are not there and have not suffered such prior losses. They are naive.

  58. @ RDL - "It can't happen here.."
    NOT THE FUGS - Frank Zappa - Freakout

  59. This is not a nuclear power failure or disaster.

    This is a failure of simple pumps and plumbing.

    Poor design and implementation of basic cooling systems.

    No proper electrical power backup.

    Put the blame where it belongs, and learn from these sad examples instead of just condemning the whole nuclear industry.

  60. Where did #5 get the idea that there are "much safer forms of energy'? Certainly not coal and oil, and support for wind and solar in this country doesn't begin to solve our problems. The Mideast unrest show vividly that even if oil weren't disastrous ecologically, we are at the mercy of the tyrants there; as for coal, same thing, ecologically disastrous as well as physically destroying our mountains. We are up a creek without a paddle, to use a tired euphemism.

  61. It is supremely irresponsible to design, and for a government to approve, a nuclear power plant in the path of a tsunami and in a country prone to earthquakes. This is NOT a Black Swan; this tsunami was always in the realm of possibility. How on earth did they think building these plants on low lands was an acceptable idea?

  62. Response to #23.

    Why were the nuke plants built where they were?

    We Americans are not alone in a kind of magical thinking which seems to suggest that technology offers "solutions" to all potential problems and eventualities. The Japanese believed they had engineered their way around possible earthquakes and tsunamis. They really did.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way in the real world....

  63. “In screenings, higher-than-normal levels of radiation have been detected from at least 22 people evacuated from near the plant, the nuclear safety watchdog said, but it was not clear if the doses they received were dangerous.“

    And from that factoid, posters try to justify the abolition of a proven form of energy generation that is needed more now than ever.

    I agree that it was idiocy to build boiling-water reactors along a fault line, in a coastal area prone to tsunamis. I would question the wisdom of building even a modern, gas-cooled reactor along a known fault line, in a coastal area prone to tsunamis. That doesn't indict the whole technology. It merely points to poor judgment on the part of planners.

    But too many people today will settle for nothing less than "zero risk." They want to live in a fantasy world where nothing bad ever happens to anyone. A few here have also pointed to the costs of dealing with nuclear accidents as alleged reasons to abolish the technology.

    Well, a similar argument can be made about tax money subsidizing relief efforts for individuals whose homes are washed away by predictable floods, because they chose to build there in the first place. The same argument can be applied to tax money being used to extricate people from the rubble of predictable earthquakes because people chose to build homes and businesses along known geological faults. Why should taxpayers subsidize the rescue of people who knowingly settle in places where natural disasters on a massive scale are inevitable?

    What's the estimated death toll for the earthquake and tsunami, exclusive of any possible deaths from radiation? Somewhere around 10,000 is my understanding. No one has died yet from the nuclear accidents. In fact, over the course of history, many times as many people have died in earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters, than have died due to all nuclear accidents combined -- including Chernobyl.

    Bearing that in mind, for those of you who simply can't get past the belief that legislation of some form or another is the solution to all of the world's problems, let me suggest this: I propose a ban on building homes, businesses, or anything else bigger than an expressway potty stop, in any place at a greater-than-average risk of earthquakes, floods, tidal waves, volcanoes, or any other potentially cataclysmic natural events. People who already live or work in those places could stay, but would get zero assistance from the rest of us when the inevitable natural disaster strikes.

    What's wrong with that idea? It has the potential to save thousands, nay, millions of lives. And it would merely codify something that should seem obvious to anyone whose I.Q. is greater than his or her shoe size: Living in areas subject to natural disasters of biblical proportions is dangerous and, well, just plain dumb.


  64. The Japanese and we, have learned a lesson, don't build nuclear power plants near the sea to take advantage of it's use as a cooling source required during steam powered turbine, electricity generation. The big T is the answer to that lesson. A small oversight, but the 100 year event has caused a huge difficulty. Has this problem, excluding the loss of human life, 6 so far, diminished the benefits Japan has derived over the 40 years the power plants have provided pollution free electricity?
    Yes, it is a tragedy to learn by, but not a reason to avoid use of nuclear to provide relatively cheap and pollution free electricity. As we learn more and more, the danger becomes less and less. Forty or fifty years of minimal damage to the world and it's people have proved the value of it use in generating electricity. And nuclear is a very cost efficient for bomb material too, but we are too grown up to have to waste future research money on bomb development, I hope! Electrical power generating heat source is different, we are adult enough, I believe, to not panic into avoiding the best, economically and pollution non-generating heat source for electrical generation. Natural gas is second best and that is always a good option when certain reasons for nuclear centric plants are not in the world's best interest. The biggest disadvantage on nuclear is political and disposal, one which no research will solve and the second it is very possible, like launching on a rocket carrying waste toward the sun.
    Renewable, solar and wind, has it's proponents, but they can't generate electricity 24/7 like we depend on other sources for electricity. They are valuable for preventing overload situations and non-24/7 requirements. Proponents claim the government hasn't spent the money on them as they have on nuclear. Yes, but they are relatively non-technology oriented and the private sector has taken the lead, as they would benefit greatly by any successful technical solution to improve their effectiveness. To me that is the basic reasoning to not abandon this superior power generation technology. The mining costs help African countries to bring in money for their uranium and support the growth of the global economy and that of those countries most needing investment to provide jobs which are the basis of any peaceful economy. We know oil is the most portable heat source but has the highest pollution and non-peace promoting effects on the world. We need to restrict it's use to portable power until fuel cells can fill the gap. Nuclear electricity can provide the hydrogen for that ideal solution to a portable electricity/heat source.

  65. "However briefly" is irrelevant. Are we supposed to feel more comfortable with that? As if duration of exposure time matters. Will you readers please wake up? You are going to need to get off thy butts, give up your belief that nuclear energy is, per Harry Shearer "..clean, safe, too cheap to meter..", and push your local and national reps to get rid of these technologies and get busy with solar and other alternative technologies but mostly, you are going to really have to seriously and yes, today, give up your addiction to driving and oil. And please people, do whatever you need to to vote next election. Blue dogs and heeHaw characters are not the solution.

    By the way, if more of you rode a bike and walked occasionally, we might have less to worry about re this kind of catastrophe and we would reduce the obesity epidemic in the US thereby reducing healthcare costs.

    I'm sorry - I just couldn't help this rant. It's the fallout.

  66. Well, hindsight is probably 20/10 these days, but why not:

    1. Design a reactor that requires its full functions to keep generating heat; any loss of a function leads to the safe shut down of the reaction. For instance, use gravity to either pull the core apart or drop control rods so that the reaction doesn't continue in the event of a loss of power. Design a reactor in which the final failure mode does not cause the build-up of heat. For instance, place the reactor vessel in the ground and design it so that the ground can safely absorb its heat, if needed. Current designs *depend* on a functioning coolant system: pumps working AND no leaks, AND a good supply of coolant. Failure in any one of these leads to the disaster unfolding before us.

    2. Have had the US Navy bring in a floating power source to replace the damaged emergency diesel generators and spent batteries? If all these plants are missing is electricity, isn't this the kind of thing the US military excels at?

  67. The Union of Concerned Scientists warned us of just this catastrophic nuclear disaster. Diablo Canyon in California poses the same threat, except here!

  68. If the nuclear power industry can lobby its way out of this one, I'm out of here.

  69. This portends a disaster of monumental proportions. The U.S., Russia, the UN, France, anyone who knows anything about nuclear reactors and who has any resources, needs to IMMEDIAATELY send Help, whatever resources, NOW. Ships with independent power sources that can be hooked up, water shooting ships, if that would help,etc. I don't know about these things, but there is no time to lose to send help. Let's save the criticism for later. This is a save the world situation which needs all hands on deck. International emergency!

  70. Am sorry for those affected.

    And I think we need to go with alternatives to muclear power.It is a shame that Mr Obama has been supporting the revival of this troubling industry. The reactor nearest NYC is near a fault line!

    Are our electeds only puppets of big business?

  71. All the anti-nuclear posters here self-righteously saying "I told you so" won't be singing the same tune when the price of gas passes $5 a gallon and heating oil and natural gas costs follow suit. Without nuclear there is no viable alternative to traditional fuels which you also blame for polluting the environment. Buy oil stocks now. Thanks to this incident, there won't be a new nuclear energy facility built in the U.S. in a long time, if ever.

  72. Time to re-read Scott Sagan's "The Limits of Safety" -1993.

    Describing organizations with a high degree of interactive complexity, Sagan points to nuclear power plants as "the prototypical system". Critical components are kept, by necessity in close proximity within a containment building, increasing the possibility of unplanned interactions."

    This interactive complexity ensures that all contingencies can never be anticipated and planned for.The more nuclear power plants you have, the higher the odds that accidents will happen.

  73. Needed: fewer people, less power use, more respect for nature, and much more attention to "what's the worst that can happen." Japan is one of the more civilized, mature and thoughtful nations. I wish them well, and I hope the rest of us can learn from them.

    Actually, I doubt that Americans will learn anything. I wonder what Rush and Fox will preach about this week?

  74. Gulp...

  75. here is the list of meltdowns

    Windscale - Great Britian 1957
    TMI- USA - 1979
    Chernobyl - 1986 - Ukraine
    Daiichi- (3 reactors) 2011- Japan

    In 54 years we have had 6 meltdowns- that is about one every 9 years
    You can argue that these were different types of reactors- graphite vs PWR vs BWR etc but - the cooling and control systems failed at every one.

    So either we are very unlucky or we don't as a human race have the goods and the intelligence to manage these systems. I japan they put the reactors in Tsunami and earth quake prone areas- not a good idea!

    The tired old arguments about nuc power and carbon in the atmosphere need to be revisited- it takes a lot of CO2 to build and maintaint these things. I could go for nucs and fossil fuels as part of the necessary mix but only - and I emphasize only after- the fundamentals of safe and prosperous land use planning; renewable energy sources; conservation; land reclamation; and public health and safety are used to set the base line.

    Dr. Jon Berger

  76. The nuclear industry has been a bust and a criminal enterprise since its inception! I can't believe that the Obama administration is trying to foist this failed technology on the U.S. once again! Wind, solar, water, and geothermal are all clean and available energy technologies. Incredible that the people of Japan have to deal with this added tragedy! And how long will it take for the radiation to spread across the Pacific Ocean?

  77. What I want to know is: how long will it take before the overheating problem abates?

  78. It would be helpful, I think, if reports on "small" radiation releases would put the numbers in perspective. We are exposed to radiation every day of our lives, and what matters (if you're rational) is the relative increase in exposure. U.S. Navy crewmen were exposed to radiation equivalent to what we all receive just hanging around the house for 30 days, and the Times has done its job well by pointing this out. It would also be worth pointing out how many days it takes a coal-fired plant to dump this much radiation into the air.

    In the long run, if these 30-year-old reactors turn out to have survived a magnitude 8.9 quake AND a huge tsunami, with the only consequence being an expensive clean-up, the lesson may be that nuclear power is in fact an acceptably safe technology, less hazardous than the burning of coal.

  79. i sure hope the u.s is learning from what is going on we have a lot of power plants that will not with stand a quake like japan and i do belive we are going to get a big one very very soon all the tell tail signs are here on our door step lord help us all

  80. Time to reconsider the safety of Diablo Canyon in California.

  81. If the reactors have to be abandoned, and "allowed to run their course", the radiation emitted from a total meltdown would be blown westward, towards the United States.

  82. I often wonder if the misinformation we get is the result of cynical corporate lying, simple incompetence, or just clinical confusion. One thing for sure, "spin" is critical to all these kinds of situations. Whether you know the truth and it's bad or you just don't know, spin a tale that "makes the best" of the situation. Putting a positive spin on this nuclear threat is going to be a real challenge. How do you justify building multiple nuclear reactors over the most earthquake prone area in the world that even goes by the name "Ring of Fire?"

  83. The travesty would not have happened if not for global warming, drilling for gas, and the continuation of the Bush tax rates. Before the Bush tax cuts, we simply did not have these kinds of massive earthquakes. The rich and the tea party must be to blame.

  84. “. . .when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over, -- and it will be called, and will be, ‘A melancholy accident’”

    Henry David Thoreau predicting the effects of modern corporate capitalism

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."

    Edward Abbey describing the existing state of modern corporate capitalism

  85. No matter what officials say now and what we have been told over the years. NUCLEAR POWER is NOT the answer! It is deadly and the danger lasts for years if there is contamination! Wind, water, sun, hydrogen, steam- these are safe renewable sources of power! The oil companies own the nuclear industry so they have gazillions of dollars to brainwash the public that atomic power is safe. IT IS NOT! I pray for japan and the world.

  86. It's high time for nuclear energy enthusiasts to admit that they've been unable to solve the basic problem with nuclear energy: inadequate heat transfer. Even if they average only one meltdown every 15 years, the effects are so catastrophic - persisting for decades or longer - that the risk is not really justified, considering that solar and wind are available as fossil fuel-free alternatives.

    Multiple reactors in Japan have suffered partial core meltdowns, that's clear enough. Reactor #1 uses conventional nuclear fuel, low-enrichment uranium, but reactor #3 (whose building exploded this morning in Japan) uses a plutonium - uranium blend, with about 5% of the fuel rod consisting of plutonium. Apparently, this fuel has a lower melting point and could thus spread much farther than conventional fuel, plus the fallout would have more plutonium in it.

    When the earthquake hit, control rods, which are made of neutron-absorbing materials, were apparently rapidly inserted into the core. This does not "shut off" the reactor, but simply reduces power output to a few percent of full power - rather like turning down a stove to the lowest possible setting, but not turning it off. There have also been reported problems with control rods used in GE-type boiling water reactors in the U.S., so the same may be true in the identical reactors in Japan:


    Apart from defective issues, consider what happens to these fission-quenching control rods during a partial meltdown - they may become less effective, leading to an increase in fission reactions and a rapid rise in core temperature. This can then lead to a full meltdown and perhaps also to a steam explosion within the core itself, which could have enough power to breach the steel containment vessel and spread tons of radioactive material around, which would then rain down on the surrounding area, as was the case with Chernobyl. A Fukushima plant designer discusses this possibility here:


    Now, if there are steam explosions within the reactor cores, you could indeed be looking at something worse than Chernobyl, since multiple reactors are involved. Ignoring this possibility because one doesn't want to be "alarmist" is dangerous nonsense. If that happens, the only possible response is to attempt to smother the cores with sand and concrete, as was done in the case of Chernobyl. Indeed, Chernobyl's 'sarcophagus' is now in need of replacement by 2015, at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion. So much for "cheap" nuclear energy.


    Such a response will require massive resources that Japan is currently using to rescue survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. Japan's neighbors might have to assist, and that means preparing those resources, whatever the expense might be. Refusing to do so out of fear of "alarming people" is beyond irresponsible. CNN, for example, had a nuclear scientist/lobbyist on as an "expert" claiming that the explosions were "normal, nothing to worry about." He also instructed them not to use the phrase, "meltdown" because it "wasn't helpful."

    Keep in mind that if Japan had instead constructed dozens of gigawatt-scale solar PV facilities coupled to energy storage and distribution systems, they wouldn't have to deal with nuclear meltdowns and the threat of fallout on top of everything else. Despite the claims of the fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies, and their partners in the federal government and academia, such systems are technologically feasible and no more expensive than any other energy infrastructure - and don't require any fueling.

  87. Imagine the glee in the halls of the oil companies. Looks like we're stuck with the Arabs for a while. And they didn't have to spend a dime in lobbyists or PR firms.

  88. Journalists should be reporting the effects produced by radiation on the people near nuclear power plants in Japan.

    Radiation dose information is available; from University Of Maryland Medical Center:

    There are two basic types of radiation: ionizing and nonionizing.

    Nonionizing radiation comes in the form of light, radio waves, microwaves and radar. This kind of radiation usually does not cause tissue damage.

    Ionizing radiation is radiation that produces immediate chemical effects on human tissue . X-rays, gamma rays, and particle bombardment (neutron beam, electron beam, protons, mesons, and others) give off ionizing radiation. This type of radiation can be used for medical testing and treatment, industrial and manufacturing purposes, weapons and weapons development, and more.

    Radiation sickness results when humans (or other animals) are exposed to very large doses of ionizing radiation. Radiation exposure can occur as a single large exposure (acute), or a series of small exposures spread over time (chronic).

    Radiation sickness is generally associated with acute exposure and has a characteristic set of symptoms that appear in an orderly fashion. Chronic exposure is usually associated with delayed medical problems such as cancer and premature aging, which may happen over a long period of time.

    The risk of cancer depends on the dose and begins to build up even with very low doses. There is no "minimum threshhold."

    Exposure from x-rays or gamma rays is measured in units of roentgens. For example:

    •Total body exposure of 100 roentgens (or 1 Gy) causes radiation sickness.
    •Total body exposure of 400 roentgens (or 4 Gy) causes radiation sickness and death in half the individuals. Without medical treatment, nearly everyone who receives more than this amount of radiation will die within 30 days.
    •100,000 rads causes almost immediate unconsciousness and death within an hour

    The severity of symptoms and illness (acute radiation sickness) depends on the type and amount of radiation, how long you were exposed, and which part of the body was exposed. Symptoms of radiation sickness may occur immediately after exposure, or over the next few days, weeks, or months.

    Because it is difficult to determine the amount of radiation exposure from nuclear accidents, the best signs of the severity of the exposure are: the length of time between the exposure and the onset of symptoms, the severity of symptoms, and severity of changes in white blood cells. If a person vomits less than an hour after being exposed, that usually means the radiation dose received is very high and death may be expected.

    Children who receive radiation treatments or who are accidentally exposed to radiation will be treated based on their symptoms and their blood cell counts. Frequent blood studies are necessary and require a small puncture through the skin into a vein to obtain blood samples.

    Additionally, search "radiation dose calculator" to determine the amount of radiation you probably receive in any given year.

  89. Planes crash, boats sink, bridges collapse, buildings implode - some more suspiciously than others. The point is anything built by man has the potential to fail. When one of the aforementioned fails it is a tragedy that potentially effects hundreds if not thousands of people. When a nuclear plant fails it has the potential to effect hundreds of thousands if not millions of people! Do you think man can build something foolproof? Yet here we have our president offering $ billions in seed money to build these things and the chukleheads in congress nodding their heads in agreement. Why? Can you say campaign contribution?

  90. A massive combination of natural disasters which nobody could have predicted or imagined caused this. Yes, we should learn from this and work to prevent accidents in the future.

    But it's not as if negligence caused this - as was the case with the BP oil spill or the occasional mine cave-in. Yet nobody calls for a halt in production of oil or coal because of these disasters. Gas trucks blow up on the freeway, but nobody questions the safety of oil drilling or refining.

    It takes the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded, in combination with huge tsunamis, to cause this nuclear disaster. I'd like to think we'll learn from this experience, make our nuclear plants safer, and move on. This doesn't mean we should throw out nuclear power altogether...

  91. Some of the comments are truly distressing. "Why would you build a nuclear power plant in the path of a tsunami?". Really? Well, beyond the ridiculous of that comment, plants are built bear water because the water cools and prevents and prevents and catastrophic meltdowns from occurring. Everything you are reading about in regards to "melt downs" is simply an ignorant point of view from a dangerous yet relatively benign situation. There is NO danger of a Chernobyl. There is no danger of radiation, that would effectively be more dangerous than flying, being released into the atmosphere and somehow drifting over the Pacific into San Francisco. That is simply Sci-Fi movie drama being portrayed by the media. Focus on saving the people that are alive. Despite what you all have read, there is 100% containment. Take a deep breath people.

  92. NO source of energy for civilization comes without bad consequences -- none. The nuclear plants in Japan have just experienced the largest earthquake in over 1,000 years of recorded Japanese history -- the fifth-largest earthquake ever measured -- and one that was a factor of four or so larger than they were designed to withstand. The seawalls surrounding the plant, and much of the coast, proved ineffective against an enormous tsunami, and it's the tsunami that knocked out the backup power for the cooling systems.

    Nuclear energy remains an important source to power our civilization, and Greg (#12) has it right. We have to learn from this experience and over-design to minimize the probability of severe damage from the next unanticipated event. Some lessons are pretty simple: for instance, position the backup generators higher above sea level in coastal systems.

    Even with Chernobyl and the present disaster, nuclear energy will have been responsible for orders of magnitude fewer illnesses and deaths than coal, oil or natural gas. And when you include the mineral extraction, fabrication and end-of-life aspects in a life cycle analysis of wind and solar, their drawbacks become more visible too.

  93. To Ted #19 - You are so right. Thanks for the post.

  94. When the things settle down, we will find loss of lives and property due to the nuclear accident or malfunction far lower than the overall loss due to earthqack and tsunami.

  95. @ 15. msnymph,

    You must live in a real drag of a place somewhere in the USA. Where I live, people are more concerned and active about those suffering in Japan than they are about what might happen in a counterfactual world at home. Your prediction is far from applicable here, and many here have those guns I guess you expect every gun-owner waves around in selfish disregard for others. Also not the case.

    I guess I'm glad I don't live in New Jersey.

  96. Not one of the better NYT articles I've read recently.

    The first sentence of this article:

    "The risk of a meltdown spread to a third reactor at a stricken nuclear power plant in Japan on Monday as its cooling systems failed, exposing its fuel rods, only hours after a second explosion at a separate reactor blew the roof off a containment building. "

    The last sentence:

    "At a late-night news conference, officials at Tokyo Electric said that the valve had been fixed, but that water levels had not yet begun rising. "

    So, the problem's been fixed already? I'm glad to hear that the NYT decided to mention it in passing, at the end of the article, rather than just not tell us at all. Dramatic, sensationalistic reporting trumps the truth once more.

  97. Frank N. von Hippel, a physicist and professor at Princeton, said he was not aware of any cases WHERE more than one reactor had problems.

  98. If nuclear has been 30% of Japan's power, then the Japanese can (may have to) live with 30% less power. I don't doubt that not so many years ago they did so.

    The same is true here in the USA. Why aren't we talking about this non-radical idea? Why is it simply "we'd have to make up the energy difference from declining sources of oil and coal"?

    And why is there always the assumption that the world's population will double, along with its use of energy, in soandso many years? Contraceptives also need to be a part of the whole sustainable energy discussion and they're not.

  99. It is disturbing to read some of these comments - that all of these problems were caused by the Bush Tax Cuts and Republicans. And that people are worried that the radiation may blow to CA.

    These poor people have been devastated! Their homes destroyed, their loved ones killed or missing. Their way of life changed forever. No food, no shelter, no clothing in some cases, and many livelihoods gone forever.

    Think about someone else for a change. This is what has gone so terribly wrong in America. We are so wrapped up in ourselves. It is a disgrace.

  100. I was in Berlin during the Chernobyl meltdown and certain European countries got so much fallout, including Germany, that we were advised that, for example, current stocks of grains in stores would be fine, but maybe not find a few months or a year hence. We were also told, by government spokespeople, to leave our shoes outside our houses on days when it rained. The last straw was when the authorities came and took out the sand from the courtyard sandbox in our complex, because they were concerned about contamination. At that point, since I was only going to be there for a few months, I took my small child out of the country immediately. One problem is that the effect of such fallout may not be seen for quite a few years. And, btw, at the same time in Italy, which got as much fallout as Germany, people were reassured that it wasn't affecting the food chain at all.
    There's no question that nuclear energy and extremes of global change are going to result many disasters. When will we learn that playing with nature - whether it's through nuclear plants, poisoned gas drilling techniques, oil drilling in fragile environments - will always come back to haunt us? Nuclear plants require huge government subsidies, in the many billions of dollars. How about putting that money into sustainable energy sources?!

  101. The assurances that increased radiation levels are not harmful are the usual official and industry propaganda. Background (natural) radiation itself is harmful to the individual (if “helpful” to evolution). Any increase in radiation exposure above none increases levels of harm when viewed statistically over large populations.

    It cannot be said whether any one individual will be harmed, and if so how, by a given increase in exposure, but in a population, scientists believe that the statistics will show increases in morbidity and mortality. The rates of morbidity at particular levels are not well understood, especially at lower levels, because it is difficult to conduct controlled experiments, impossible on humans. The best we can do, I suspect, beside studies on animals with short life spans, is to look at the statistics over decades of human experience. Because there are a multiple confounding influences, one can say and not be proved wrong, as one often hears said, that no-one has ever been killed by the nuclear industry in the United States. I think you’d have to be gullible indeed to take that at face value.

    It is true that there are levels that cause immediate sickness or death, and they are much higher. Iodine pills are not the great protective they’re being touted as, and are said to do little or nothing to treat threats from direct exposure. What they’re said to do is prevent the thyroid from the uptake of as much radioactive iodine as if the pills hadn’t been taken. So if taken before exposure, they may protect this one organ, which is important, especially, it is said, for children. Most of the radioactive iodine, I believe, would come through the food chain, for instance from milk products via cows who’ve eaten radioactive grass.

    Coming next? Panic to buy iodine pills but none available? West Coasters flee east to places shown on weather map unlikely to get fallout according to prevailing wind patterns? Californians demand immediate shutdown and removal of fuel and waste stores at reactors cleverly build atop faults?

  102. People of Japan, I'm so sorry. Godspeed and good luck to you in keeping these reactors from harming you, and in your recovery. May the world help you before it indulges in painting the broad strokes of blame it does, so often.

  103. It is amazing that in the US we continue to DISMANTLE hydro plants.

  104. By now, it should be axiomatic, and it certainly accords with all human experience, that no man-made systems this complex are failsafe ? and the latest reactor failures in Japan are further proof of this truth.

    Do we then go on and do it again, and again, and again . . . with the same (or even worse) results?

    Nuclear power plant generation is "DAMAGED GOODS," and the world is being reminded of it yet again to dispel our collective amnesia or arrogance about how bad it can get, and the unacceptable risks of having it deployed.

  105. To msnymph: You wrote, "Can you imagine Americans under the same circumstances?"

    Yes, I can and my sense is quite different from yours. Replace earthquake with hurricane, Hurricane Andrew, and what I see from the photos from Japan are very similar to what I experienced in South Florida, beginning the few hours after and for the next 2.5 days until the neighbors, an entire block, got together with chain saws to make a path out for us. Waiting for us was Salvation Army food truck with bologna sandwiches and water. At my then shop, the same helping behavior that extended for months after the event.

    You underestimate our national morality which is the soul of our citizenship. My sense is that when disaster strikes, we pull together, regardless of where we live.

  106. Nuclear is a pretty stupid and expensive way to just boil water.
    We have not figured out any other ways to generate electricity, than this hundreds years old method?

  107. Speaking only for myself, I do not favor nuclear power plants because I oppose national suicide, one meltdown at a time.

  108. Things are not under control and thats not the fun part, wait till the air carries some of that love to America..

  109. People need to realize that the term "meltdown" is a fiction created by movies and sensationlist media. The nuclear fuel cannot get hot enough to melt concrete. The core can melt such that the reactor will never be started again, but the idea of some run-away event akin to a nuclear explosion with large amounts of deadly radiation escaping is pure fiction.

  110. Guess maybe we'll have to re-think that Faustian fantasy of total technological control, huh? Or not...

  111. It is way past time to investigate and put an end to the cozy relationship that has existed between Japan's nuclear power industry and the Japanese government for far, far, too long. Both Japan and the rest of the world may now pay a terrible price for decades for this culture of collusion, cover-up and concealment.

  112. Back in the dawning of our awareness for the existence of "Nuclear Rays", the technology was appropriated by health spas and marketed as "Healing and Rejuvenating Rays" The next thing we are likely to hear is that the health industry has bought the rights to the radiation and is charging Medicare for the "Treatments".

  113. I live in Japan. I thank you very very much for help from all over the world. Japanese in the place struck by the earthquake and tsunami will also feel great thankfulness and helpfulness. I expect your country's team to do good job. Again, thanks! We never forget your kindness.

  114. I just read all 85 comments and thought, "With a few glaring exceptions, this is a SANE discussion of very well informed people." Then I began to imagine - what if the lobbyists, the loud mouth CEOs of multinational corporations, the corrupt governments - all the Type A personalities who are trying their hardest to make the rest of us extinct - what if the world wasn't run on pure aggression anymore? I don't know the absolute science of nuclear power but it appears that at this point it has a pretty bad track record. Obviously our president has already bought into BIG, IMPORTANT interest groups (I wonder why) and is now going to shelve wind and solar power while he assures us that to do this is in our national interest. The Middle East is going up in flames. Japan is having a nuclear meltdown, so why would any sane person listen to his logic? I thought he had a quiet mind. I believed his heart was in the right place and that he was the kind of man who could actually set ambition aside in order to do the right thing. In the midst of this terrible, terrible tragedy, it appears that once again the reckless and the ridiculous of this world will speak the loudest, while the rest of us suffer the consequences of the slash and burn lives of these fools. They always get their way.

  115. Reading some of the comments (some sarcastic) about the fact that Japan has Nuclear Plants, we have to ask ourselves the question. How hypocritical a statement are we making? It's like saying I told you so, and the people of Japan have had a tragedy happen. The conversation for them will be valid to ask, do we rebuild nuclear and continue this dependency or are we going to invest dollars toward a different energy that is able to provide us with the power we need and use.
    Look at your own power usage before you make such Laissez-faire comments about other peoples source of energy....Its the same source for much of America, and much of the World for that matter. A tragedy like this does open an discussion for each nuclear dependent community to ask itself if they are able to convert to alternatives.

    My thoughts and prayers go all the people in Japan that are effected by this Natural disaster.

  116. The radiation victims should receive special handling in order not contagious and take more casualties.

  117. I'm not a nuclear expert, but it's clear that there are multiple reactors at this plant. Why doesn't this article or any others in the Times help us understand that. How many reactors are there? Were they all running at the time of the quake and tsunami? I've read elsewhere that there are six reactors at this site, and that three were off-line (maintenance time in winter?) For reactors that were running, *all* were hit essentially simultaneously. Presumably the first two were those that were running at high capacity ... a third one may have been a less than full capacity? Or, if I'm wrong, can we please get some info about this? Also, the articles need to clarify that the threats are all at the same plant/locale. And, it would be nice to know just how many total plants there are in the geographically tiny nation of Japan? I know the situation is mind-blowing but the journalism is stunningly unsatisfying.

  118. We need to shut down all nuclear power plants NOW, before more disasters occur such as the one in Japan. The government should mandate that all future power generating facilities must utilize renewable, sustainable sources of energy only such as soalr and wind. We must have strict carbon rationing as soon as possible. We cannot afford to jeopardize the lives of our children by our reliance on nuclear power and greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

  119. I would like to see an investigation into the command structure in a clean-up. It seems to me governments don't want to get too involved lest they begin to take responsibility if things go awry. Companies have to balance clean up vs cost of clean-up vs overall financial liabilities vs potential criminal liability. I know the "trigger" was a natural disaster, but where does the buck stop, how are decisions made, in whose interest are they made, etc. When I read employees are "jury-rigging" fire hoses to send in sea water, it just makes me think the leaders of the world didn't act fast enough with the overwhelming amount of resources that they have. I want to know why...

  120. No chicken little here, but the situation with the nuclear reactors in Japan is very fluid right now. People, and governments, should be preparing for an exception nuclear event on a scale not seen since the advent of the atomic age. While radiation proper will diffuse in the atmosphere, there is not certainty of long term effects. Why? Because a core melt down, on this scale, has never happened.

    In regards to Chernobyl, the Soviet Union was on site and encasing the failed reactors rather quickly, considering the extent of the event. Three Mile Island, was also under quick control. In the case of Japan, there is limited infrastructure to react to a meltdown. Only access is by helicopter, so if a full scale meltdown does occur impeded access will make it near impossible to contain the radiation leak.

    So, what government officials are painting (US, Russia, Japan, etc.) is a very rosy situation. This is being done so not to induce panic and because they just don't know. Of course, there were a number of above ground atomic tests in the 1940s - 1960s which could give indications of flow of radiation. But none of these models deal with a situation where there is a constant release of radiation from failed nuclear reactors. It is one thing to have an atomic bomb blast, it is quite another when lethal radiation is constantly being emitted for a number of years.

    In the end, if a meltdown does occur, the article fails to mention that a huge area of Japan will need to be permanently evacuated. And the implications for the rest of the world? We are in uncharted territory.

  121. Any idea as to why the Japanese built the reactors on the windward side of their country, facing open ocean, and apparently 60 miles or so from one of the most active fault lines on earth?

    I know the country isn't that wide, but you would think that the leeward side (facing China) would offer more protection from catastrophe than where most of the reactors are placed now. The only drawback would be increased transmission costs to their population centers.

    Would China's relativ/y closer proximity to the reactors be a factor?

  122. The only positive outcome to be gained from these horrific nuclear disasters is that hopefully it will spark a real, broad and sustained push for localized alternative energy systems and real commitments to energy efficiency and conservation.

    The reason this has not happened up until now? It's impossible to put a meter on the sun or wind, unless you have energy production and distribution concentrated with massive power plants.

  123. An irony indeed, that there is only country against which nuclear bombs have been used in war; and that country has in effect bombed itself by accident/act of nature.

  124. There were so many problems with these failed nuclear reactors I don't know where to start. Two of the biggest are:

    1. Excessively fragile backup systems intended to power the plant's cooling systems. These backup systems by design were not robust enough to stand up to a severe quake or Tsunami.

    2. A reactor design that cannot fail safely. Even with the control rods inserted, its cooling systems still needed to be working. There are safer designs than this, ones that can fail safe.

    The biggest problem, however, is the industry's continuing disservice of misleading the public about "safe amounts of radiation being released". This is disinformation at its best. Radiation at any level destroys our cell's DNA structures and can cause cancer. Just because it may take decades for this cancer to surface doesn't mean a small exposure isn't dangerous.

    Even our background radiation levels, which is higher due to past nuclear testing and previous accidents, poses a small but real risk. Any radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere by this new accident just make everything worse.

    As long as the public is going to be mislead about the real dangers of these discharges from nuclear power plants, these problems will continue - our health and welfare will continue to be put in jeopardy by the nuclear industry.

  125. What is the status of the spent nuclear fuel in the cooling ponds at the Daichi reactors? These ponds are not within the primary containment chamber. I have visited a reactor in Iowa that is identical to Unit #1 and the cooling pond was on the floor above the primary containment chamber. This is the floor that has blown up at reactors #1 and #3. The water in these cooling ponds is circulated with electric pumps. I assume these pumps are not working since the other pumps have failed for the primary reactor chamber. The heat from the rods in these ponds will eventually boil off the water, in which case the heat from the rods will break down their casing and then the fuel pellets can come into contact with each other and release large amounts of radiation. If these fuel rods were flung out of the facilities due to the blasts, this also would not be good. I can find little discussion about these spent fuel rod assemblies anywhere online. Do others know more about this?